Bisys Group Inc., a leading partner of banks that manage mutual funds, has broken through the $100 billion mark in assets under administration, far outdistancing its closest rivals.

In the quarter that ended Sept. 30, the Little Falls, N.J.-based company's fund services arm handled $101.6 billion of assets for its bank clients, according to Lipper Analytical Services, Summit, N.J. That's a 23% increase since June 30, and an 87% rise since Sept. 30, 1995.

Second and third place leaders were SEI Corp. and Stephens Inc., each of which moved up a notch this quarter. First Data Investor Services Group slipped to fourth place, from second, while PFPC Inc. held on to its fifth-place berth.

Banks rely on these fund administrators to keep their mutual fund businesses operating smoothly by handling technical chores like accounting, record keeping, and compliance.

"We don't have the resources internally to really be on the cutting edge (in administration), so we have to look to them for support," said Eugene C. "Trip" Purcell 3d, senior vice president of BB&T Bank's mutual fund business.

"We feel like our expertise is managing money and dealing with the clients," added Mr. Purcell, whose bank - a unit of Southern National Corp., Winston-Salem, N.C. - uses Bisys as its fund administrator.

The top five companies in fund administration collectively perform such services for banks with $255.6 billion in fund assets - 56% of the funds managed by banks. Some administrators also double as fund distributors, advising banks on how to position and sell their funds.

David Huber, president of Bisys Fund Services, Columbus, Ohio, said a big boost came from its First Chicago NBD Corp. account. The bank, formed last December through a merger of First Chicago Corp. and NBD Bancorp., combined its fund families, putting an additional $8 billion to $10 billion under Bisys' watch, he said.

Mr. Huber said Bisys has also brought in some new clients, such as Republic New York Corp.; helped banks launch new fund portfolios; and overseen conversions of trust assets into mutual funds.

Finally, he said, "the market's up, and sales are up. It's been a good year."

Bisys has also been an aggressive acquirer of other fund servicers in recent years. By yearend, Mr. Huber said, the company expects to complete its purchase of Furman Selz's administration business, a move that should add another $10.7 billion to its column.

Smaller rivals have had to reshape themselves to compete.

"There are now just a very few independents," said John Y. Keffer, president of Forum Financial Group, which ranks seventh among fund administrators, with $16.1 billion in bank funds under its purview. Forum, based in Portland, Maine, counts Norwest Corp. among its clients.

Mr. Keffer said the remaining companies are now carving out their own specialties. They are doing so with slimmer margins, but that is balanced by ever-larger volumes.

Commerce Bank, St. Louis, is primarily interested in distribution of its fledgling fund group when it thinks of its administrator/distributor Goldman Sachs & Co., said Peter Mackie, executive vice president in charge of the bank's funds.

He said that Goldman is Commerce Bank's "eyes and ears in the industry." Goldman ranks 11th among bank fund administrators, handling $8.3 billion.

Mr. Moore is a freelance writer based in Mount Vernon, Maine.

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